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The Late Joan Saunders

Interview with Joan Saunders

Joan Saunders is a citizen of York Factory First Nation with a compelling story about gaps in the medical care system and cost Joan her life. She died June 14, 2009. She wanted to tell her story and have it published to share her experience to ensure that nothing like this happens to anyone else.

On December 17, 2008, Joan became suddenly ill and was medi-vaced to Thompson. She was not informed that she had suffered a heart attack, even after she arrived at Thompson General Hospital (TGH). She was put on oxygen and was told that she needed complete bed rest, but she was given no information about her condition. She felt quite helpless because she did not know what was going on.

Her symptoms while at the hospital were dizziness when she took off her oxygen mask to go to the bathroom, inability to sleep, and general discomfort. She could not take a bath or shower, and was not even provided with a face cloth so that she could give herself a sponge bath. When she asked questions, the staff were too busy to answer her. She felt frightened and ignored, like nobody cared about how she was doing. When she rang the bell, nurses did not respond. This went on for 2 days. In the meantime, another patient was admitted into the same room, and this patient seemed to get excellent care. She did not understand why she was not being given any attention at all.

The day after she was admitted, she complained to the nurses that she had not passed water for about 10 hours. The nurses did not listen to her. Later it was discovered that her kidneys had shut down early that day. On December 19th, two days after admission, she kept getting weaker and weaker. She told two nurses that her legs were getting swollen, but again, it seemed like nobody listened to her. She was only comfortable when she sat up, so she could not sleep well at all. She was feeling very ill and becoming more frightened all the time. The staff seemed busy and uncaring, and she felt almost guilty, like she was being a nuisance for wanting medical attention and information. Her experience there was so negative, she said that she never wants to be admitted to TGH ever again – she does not trust them. During her stay at TGH, nobody from Aboriginal Services came to see her and she is wondering what their role is there if not to advocate for aboriginal people who are slipping through the cracks or being treated with disrespect. While she was at TGH, her family was not notified about how sick she was – apparently nobody bothered to contact them. Another patient by the name of Donald Saunders was in TGH at the same time as Joan, and witnessed her shabby treatment by the staff.

Suddenly, there was a frenzy of activity around her. She received at least one blood transfusion, and preparation for her to be medi-vaced to Health Sciences Center (HSC) in Winnipeg. Again, nobody informed her about what was going on, or what was wrong with her. Finally, they realized that she was experiencing kidney failure, and put her on a catheter. Once she was told that she was going to Winnipeg, she had to find an Orderly to pack her bags for her. A doctor then came to see her, and she felt that she was finally getting some information.

She was sent out at 1:00 a.m. The plane was cold, and Joan states that the pilot had to start the plane twice before the heat would come on. Things did not improve once she got to Winnipeg. She waited TWO HOURS at the Winnipeg Airport before the ambulance came to pick her up. My understanding is that there was no escort with her, but I will confirm this with her. Apparently her family was not even notified that she had been sent to Winnipeg. Her daughter had come to visit her at TGH, and this is how she found out that her mother had been moved. Once her husband, Eric Saunders, heard that she was in Winnipeg, he rushed to Winnipeg to see her. He was understandably very, very upset about how the matter was handled, and about the health of his wife.

Once she arrived at...

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